Frequency: Midnight Juggernauts

FREE BIRDOut from under Justice's wing, Midnight Juggernauts take off on their own

The Internet certainly helped bring attention to Midnight Juggernauts' debut album, Dystopia, but the Australian trio knows much of the hype building up to the disc's international release is due to a certain electronic act — Justice — working as its “French PR firm.” But with their updated space-rock sounds, Midnight Juggernauts have more than just electro-rockstar friends in their corner.

High school friends Vincent and Andy Juggernaut are joined in the band by drummer Daniel Stricker, who says he hasn't adopted the “Juggernaut” surname because, “My last name is cool.” Talking while he and the Juggernauts were headed to a London gig, Stricker says the three share a love of “old artists that write great pop tunes,” and that's their goal for the band.

Their spot opening for Justice's 2007 U.S. tour put them on the fringes of the dance-rock revival, but the Juggernauts don't think of themselves as a club band. Their big songs comprise layers of vintage synths, and reviews are drawing flattering comparisons to idols like ELO, David Bowie and Brian Eno. Stricker and his mates certainly appreciate the attention Justice brought them, but now they hope to earn it on their own.

“[The members of Justice are] the nicest guys, but doing our own tour is a chance for people to learn more about us as a band,” he says.

Originally released on their Siberia label in 2007 (Astralwerks picked up the album in the U.S. in 2008), Dystopia takes a loose approach to the concepts of past, present and future. The cascading synths and Vincent Juggernaut's striking vocals are straight from the '70s, but the propulsive beats and grinding guitars speak to dancefloors today, and the future is captured in lyrics imagining a bleak but not hopeless world of tomorrow.

“We weren't trying to push a trend or something,” Stricker says. “It all came together, and I guess this kind of space-themed record just sort of happened. We liked the idea of creating this other world, but it's not perfect and has its dark moments.”

For one cosmic effect, the band used a vocoder on “Tombstone,” which Stricker describes as “training wheels for singing big grand melodies [that] can get cheesy and tacky — you have to walk that tightrope to make sure it's okay.” But most vocals were recorded to sound clean, supported by choruses of background parts.

“That's just like heaps and heaps and heaps of different layers of all of us singing these crazy parts,” Stricker says. “I remember with ‘Worlds Converged’ I was in there doing this high bit, and I sound like a squealing girl.”

Vintage gear such as a Yamaha CS-80 keyboard and Neve console helped the band create a classic, oversized warmth. But while having access to such an arsenal of gear in the studio is fun for the guys, they rearrange sounds for the live show based on what they can take on tour. It's more of a guitar, bass and drums affair onstage, but they use smaller synths such as a Korg MicroKorg and run loads of effects pedals. Stricker likes the way the band's sound transforms live, which keeps the show fresh every night.

“It's a pretty fun process,” he says. “When we play live, we re-create similar effects. Sometimes we have sequenced stuff going for the dancier stuff, but most of the time we're using other tools to re-create those sounds, which is interesting because it's not always perfect, and I think that's what gives it a unique quality.”

In the midst of a six-month touring binge, the Juggernauts are beginning to think about their next album. Stricker has his sights set on employing a string ensemble. And on the road, the trio keeps its Ableton Live 6-equipped MacBooks handy to capture ideas, which are influenced by all the traveling.

“Playing so much, the whole sound's evolving,” he says. “Because we get to go to all these places, we get all this new gear and we play so much together, I think the next record…well, it's the same band, but it'll be more live, I guess.”